Genre: Futurefic, established relationship
Summary: The king is sat at the table, frowning at the plate Merlin has just set before him. As if Merlin is nothing more than a servant and the king is not sat in his court sorcerer's rooms dressed in nothing but his tunic
A/N: The 'outsiders' view of Merlin/Arthur seems to be addictive. Random silliness
The north tower is the worst duty in all of Camelot and if there's one thing you can depend on at the royal court it is that none of the servants wish to be assigned to it. It invariably falls to the newest and most gullible of them to take on that duty, for as long as it takes before they can pass it on to some other fool.
The record for the shortest service is twenty-five minutes. Some kind soul took the quivering boy back to the kitchens and sat him down and gave him the strongest ale they could find and patted his hand until he felt brave enough to open his eyes again without gibbering. The king was said to have been furious about that incident, although some avowed that it hadn't sounded much like an argument, after a while. But they were quickly shushed into silence.
Tonight the latest victim is creeping up the stairs of the north tower, clutching a small tray of food in one hand and a candle in the other. He is fifteen years old and – although no one in the castle has yet been able to make sense of his shy, virtually inaudible mumbling – his name is Gavin and he is currently wishing he had listened more closely to his mother's advice about taking that job as the blacksmith's apprentice because the stairs are very dark, very narrow and very steep and it is all too easy to imagine what will happen if he slips.
The torches set into the walls suddenly burst into flame. Gavin lets out an embarrassingly unmanly shriek, and nearly falls down the stairs.
He can see now, but he's starting to wish he couldn't. He's heard things about the tower. Bad things. He thinks of going back, of telling them that the food wasn't wanted. That would be the easy way out. But then he thinks about the king coming up here – and Gavin knows he does because he saw the king heading into the north tower earlier - and the king didn't look afraid, and almost certainly wouldn't shriek like a girl just because the torches might happen to light themselves.
Gavin squares his shoulders and sets off again up the stairs and tells himself that he won't embarrass himself again. If King Arthur himself isn't afraid of the north tower then there is no reason for him, Gavin, to be so. Even if the king does have a big sword.
His legs are starting to hurt from the effort of climbing step after step after step and he's getting dizzy from the spiral. Gavin curses the idiot who built the castle. As if anyone would need to live so far from the ground in the first place. It's not like anyone has been stupid enough to attack Camelot recently. Those who tried in the early years after King Uther died tended to find themselves going home with less limbs than they had started with – if they were fortunate enough to be going home at all - and word got round after a while, even among the more stupid warlords.
Gavin is so engrossed in putting one foot in front of the other that he nearly walks into the door at the top of the tower. Blushing furiously, he sets the tray down so he can knock at the door, just as it swings open all by itself.
Running is an option. Or screaming. But Gavin picks up the tray again and advances hesitantly into the room beyond, all the while thinking of how King Arthur is brave enough to venture here and if he can face it then so can Gavin.
The room is large, and lit more brightly than he expected. It is disappointingly normal; save for an odd-looking pendant on the table in the middle of the floor there is nothing to distinguish it from any other room. There are two chairs set either side of the table, a desk and chair in the corner of the room, and an entire wall given over entirely to bookcases but there is a distinct lack of anything, well, magical.
The door at the other end of the room opens and Gavin nearly shrieks again before he realises that it has been opened the normal way, and then he sees who has opened it and opens his mouth to scream...
...and the man smiles at him, and says, amiably:
Gavin whimpers. He hasn't worked at the castle long, admittedly, and the man before him doesn't look anything like Gavin's idea of a sorcerer, but he's in no doubt about who this is.
There isn't a man, woman or child in all of Camelot who doesn't know who Merlin is. What he is.
“Is that dinner?” Merlin's eyes light up and he comes towards Gavin with none of the grace Gavin might expect from someone who could flatten the castle with a single word if he wished. Gavin has heard the stories.
“Y-yes,” he squeaks. “My lord,” he adds as an afterthought. He has no idea what Merlin's title at court actually is but that seems safe enough.
Merlin takes the tray from him with a smile that is probably meant to be reassuring. “Thank you.”
“I could light the fires...”
Merlin doesn't even look round. The flames roar up in the hearth. Gavin swallows.
“I-is there anything else?”
“No,” Merlin says with another smile.
“I-I'm sorry it took so long...”
“It's all right.” Merlin's voice is more gentle now. Kinder. “You've probably heard things.”
“But you came anyway.”
“It's my job,” Gavin points out.
Merlin grins, and suddenly he looks like a boy not much older than Gavin himself. “You've already lasted longer than most of the others. You'll do.”
“You w-won't turn me into a f-frog?”
Merlin looks bemused for a moment, and then shakes his head. “I'll try not to,” he says with mock solemnity. “As long as you don't bring me my breakfast too early.”
Gavin opens his mouth – possibly, he thinks later, to say something stupid – but at that moment the door at the far end of the room opens again and Gavin's eyes go very wide because the king – King Arthur – wanders into the room, rubbing his eyes.
There's probably some rule of etiquette about being in the presence of a king who is as naked as the day he was born. Something that tells you where to look, for a start.
Not that there's anything displeasing in what he can see.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
Merlin coughs, pointedly.
The king is still rubbing his eyes. Apparently the cough wasn't quite pointed enough. “I'm starving, Merlin,” he says. “I think you can probably let the boy in now, before he dies of exhaustion climbing the stairs.”
“He is in,” Merlin tells him.
The king abruptly stops rubbing at his eyes and stares at Gavin instead, while Gavin concentrates on flushing violently and wishing the flagstones would give way beneath him because this has to be the single most mortifying experience of his life to date.
“Ah,” the king says eventually. “Yes.”
Merlin hands him a tunic Gavin was fairly sure wasn't in the room a moment ago and the king pulls it over his head. As he does so Gavin can't help noticing that he has a livid mark on the side of his neck.
“You can go, Gavin,” Merlin tells him, absent-mindedly reaching over to adjust the fit of the king's tunic, and Gavin nods and hurries to the door and it's only when he gets there that he realises that he never told Merlin his name and Merlin knows who he is and he starts feeling terrified all over again.
“W-will there be anything else, my lord?” he stammers.
The king is sat at the table, frowning at the plate Merlin has just set before him. As if Merlin is nothing more than a servant and the king is not sat in his court sorcerer's rooms dressed in nothing but his tunic and with something Gavin is not going to think about smeared at the corner of his mouth.
“Go to bed, Gavin,” Merlin says kindly, and Gavin flees with an image of Merlin leaning over to lick that tell-tale smear from the king's lips burned into his retinas and a whispered Arthur ringing in his head as loud as a shout.
Going down, there are only ten steps to the staircase. Gavin knows this, because he counts every one.